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The project “The City of Children”

The project  «The City of Children» was born in Fano in May 1991 from Francesco Tonucci’s idea, with a specific political goal: to promote a change of the parameter of government of the city, starting from the child instead of the adult.  The children take an active role in the process of change, participating concretely in the government and design of the city and regaining possession of the urban space.  The project has as its natural interlocutor the mayor of the city, as all sectors of the administration are involved.

The motivations

The scientific literature (psychological, sociological, urban), gives us the image of a city that is increasingly inadequate to meet the needs of citizens. The logic of differentiation and specialization of functions, which has guided the urban transformation in recent decades, has ended up fragmenting the city into separate places, making it lose its original nature as a place of meeting and social exchange. In this new dimension, which should mainly correspond to the needs of an adult and working citizen, the car becomes the main protagonist: it occupies public spaces, contaminates the air, kills a large number of people. The urban environment is perceived as dangerous and children lose the opportunity to move around alone in their city to live experiences such as exploration, adventure. Yet, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child approved by the United Nations Assembly on 20 November 1989 and ratified by Italy with Law No. 176/1991, recognizes the right to play (Art. 31) and the right to a standard of living that allows the child's physical, mental and spiritual development (Art. 27).

Why change the city through the child?

Children are involved in taking an active role in the process of changing the city and its environment, because they are "competent". From Piaget to Bruner, to quote the most famous, the experts agree that the cognitive development of the child occurs from birth. The child is born "competent" and immediately has notions, values and evaluation criteria that guide the experience (Juul, 2001) and that will become gradually broader and more complex through the experimentation of the surrounding world. Right from the start, they are social beings, collaborative, ready and able to communicate. In the perspective of a "New Sociology of Childhood" the children are active subjects, able to influence and be influenced by the environment in which they live (for further details see Satta, C. (2018). Children and adults: the new sociology of childhood. Carocci Editore). It is therefore through their eyes that we can see a better city, and rethink an urban context that is more appropriate to them and to all citizens.  Listening to children means giving voice to the needs of those who have been "underestimated" in the conception of the city. It means opening up an innovative point of view to re-establish a new city on different logics and balances.

The proposal: a new parameter

Asking local administrators, especially mayors, to use the child rather than the adult as a parameter of city government means trying to stop the degenerative process that affects the urban context. It means adopting a different and forward-looking view of the priorities of administrative policy choices. Moving from the management that favours cars to the management that favours pedestrians allows the city to be re-developed from every point of view.

To be effective, this process must be based not only on the consensus of citizens, but on their active involvement. The children of the city are the real agents of change. They are involved in active participation so that this process is not limited to the logic of vehicular circulation (Ariès, 1996). Children are called to participate as requested by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), which establishes their right to express opinions on decisions that affect them (Article 12) and their right to be heard because their opinion is important to all.

The re-appropriation of the urban environment, the recovery of various forms of play and the autonomous movement in the city are essential not only for the healthy development of the child but also and above all for a better development of the city itself.

In Practice

The adhesion of the cities to the project is given personally by the mayor and confirmed by a deliberation of the City Council. Joining the project does not have any economic cost but represents the political will to engage in the respect of the children and for the change of the city.

→ How to join the project (Italian version)

→ How to join the project (Spanish version)